Health

Weighted Blanket: Using It with Brain Injury, PTSD, Fibromyalgia

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Several months ago, one of my brain injury tweeps told some of us how she’d gotten a weighted blanket for Christmas and was sleeping snug as a bug — at last. I hadn’t heard of a weighted blanket before. She explained how she’d heard of them through her work with children with autism, and I looked more into it. As I did, Ballast Blankets out of Alberta reached out to me on Twitter, I checked them out and liked their business culture, and I bought their teen size with the assurance of a 30-day money back guarantee.

My biggest concern was my thermoregulation issue: was I better enough to tolerate the heat from sleeping under a 7 kg blanket? Could I lift the weight regularly to wash and make the bed? I decided no and went with a lighter one.

Apparently, weighted blankets work similar to deep pressure touch and so create a sense of calm.

“While research on weighted blankets is sparse, deep pressure stimulation has been found to calm adults and children with anxiety, autism, and attention difficulties, researchers say.” WebMD, Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket

To do that, they must be 10 to 12 percent of your weight. Because of my shoulder and neck injuries from the car crashes years ago, I couldn’t imagine having to lift, adjust, sleep under a blanket weighing ten percent of my weight. The teen size is about 8 percent.

I received it as the Olympics were beginning. Uh, bad timing, Shireen.

It’s very difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a new measure to improve sleep when you’re staying up until all hours and/or waking up super early to watch athletes compete on the other side of the planet!

The friendship with my new blanket was a bit fraught because of the Olympics and then the Paralympics and, as well, the usual adjustment period that Ballast Blankets referred to.

I had the blanket lengthwise at first and under my coverlet. But that was too heavy, and I snored! I don’t snore. Not good. I folded down the coverlet so it didn’t add to the blanket’s weight. The second problem was my feet hurt from feeling weighed down. Also, although they’re usually cold, they heat up during the night, and under a weighted blanket, they became red coals. I find it’s better to wear socks and have my feet only lightly covered, weighted blanket or no weighted blanket.

I turned back to the internet and read again others’ experiences. One person used the blanket horizontally to cover both herself and her husband. I decided to try that and stretched the weighted blanket horizontally across my bed, covering me from just under my neck to below my knees. I used my coverlet to cover my feet and just lap over the weighted blanket.

Much better.

Once I recovered from the Olympics and Paralympics, the effect of the weighted blanket began to take hold. Some nights I got restless; trying to turn under the weight hurt too much. But over time, I got used to how to lift the weight and adjust my position. Restless nights have lessened overall though. I also am using my audiovisual entrainment SMR For Sleep session much much less as I’m not usually still awake at 1:00am . . . 2:00am . . . 3:00am. It’s true, my sleep had been improving. But it began to feel more solid, more like I was falling asleep quicker after my hypothalamus fix night session, and even getting sleepy before 11:00pm or midnight. These amazing changes that I’m still adjusting to could be because of the blanket and/or my PZ brain biofeedback protocol that I’ve talked about before.

It wasn’t just my subjective feeling that showed improved sleep, but also the sleep app I’ve been using for years. I don’t know how sleep apps determine “sleep quality,” but however they do it, it immediately shot up. It took awhile though for it to create a measurable improvement in my sleep. That improvement has remained consistent or risen slightly. Although, one may dispute how apps measure “sleep quality,” it is a consistent method, so I think the measure of improvement is valid.

Sleep app screenshot showing weighted blanket improved sleep by 3%

Once I got used to the weight, I was like other reviewers and actually found it comforting. As summer heat approached, I began to worry about what I’d do . . . maybe use it on the couch like some do during daytime rests or naps. Instead, when temps soared and I began to burn, my body and brain pulled the weighted blanket up to about my shoulders, letting my feet stick out under a sheet. During the night instead of shoving the thing off me to cool down, it crept up closer to my neck. It seems that I’m so used to it now and that whatever it does to help me sleep, burning and mildly sweating* doesn’t deter me from using it.

Researchers are considering looking at using weighted blankets for fibromyalgia, but so far, I couldn’t find anything on how people with pain, physical injuries, or conditions like fibromyalgia tolerate it. From my own experience, perhaps less than the standard weight percentage may be tolerable and still provide some benefits. I think if I had no pain, it would be even more effective in countering the bad sleep effects of brain injury and PTSD.

As for Ballast Blankets, I found them pleasant to deal with and would recommend them. (I received the same discount offered to all early buyers.)

*I’ve written before about my injured brain’s inability to regulate my temps and to sweat, and I wrote in Concussion Is Brain Injury the possible neurological reasons why. I am still not normal apparently: sometimes I sweat and can cool down; sometimes I just burn.

Health

Two-Headed Monster of Brain Injury and PTSD

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Two headed striped caterpillar on milkweed

The weather gods jumped our temps from jacket cool to sweaty tank tops. Pretty soon, we’ll be seeing caterpillars munching on flower buds and leaves as this two-headed monster was on a milkweed flower last year.

Brain injury and PTSD are like a two-headed monster sitting on your psyche, slowly munching on your sanity. When one head gets fed alternative fuels to calm it down, the other chews harder on your brains. There are days when there seems to be no solution.

I think I’m supposed to give you hope at this point, talk about how a kind psychiatrist can soothe one head while the other gets calmed and then switch to the other head while the one they was soothing is fed. Or talk about how psychologists advanced in treating brain injury with 21st century technologies can calm both heads at once. Or maybe talk about how inspirational quotes make the heads feel great. Or perhaps talk inspiringly about endurance and grit as psychologists keep feeding and psychiatrists keep soothing the monster.

I have nothing. I’m tired. An old friend reminded me I hit these plateaus. True. I’m still tired though. I think I just need kind listening and supporting as the two-headed monster grows a third head called grief and all three masticate my brain.

Books

Moving On From Reading

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People walking away down PATH system.There’s a huge irony in my reading rehab journey: I thought long and hard about what it would take to restore reading after brain injury; I wrote about my theoretical program; I’ve done bits and pieces of that program; I am now receiving the bare minimum of help for reading.

My second and third posts on Psychology Today are about reading loss and restoration after brain injury because it’s the single biggest loss I’ve had of my core identity, because it’s been so very hard to get anyone seriously interested in helping me, and because both experiences are common in others, no matter their gender or race or cause of brain injury.

I wrote in my third post about lack of cognitive empathy for my reading loss. It’s not that people aren’t sympathetic or health care professionals haven’t tried some of this, some of that, it’s that they haven’t been able to put themselves in my shoes and gone, “ohhhh, this is bad, real bad, we really must make reading restoration central to your health care.”

My neurodoc verrryyy gradually over the last three years made a concerted effort to read with me most days out of the week, following a formula that worked — after six years of me begging him — yet still only when he recalled bits of the evolving formula, when he didn’t shunt it aside for “real therapy,” when he wasn’t welded to staying in his box of 20th century psychiatric medicine and trying to shove me again and again into a gendered 20th century DSM model of brain injury. He never really had cognitive empathy for my reading loss even though he’d agreed that, no matter what, he would find at least five minutes to get reading in and, when he’d followed that, he noticed himself that I did substantially better, emotionally and cognitively. Yet because he didn’t have cognitive empathy for my reading loss, he stopped doing that by 2018. He also never discussed with the rest of my health care team how to work together to recover my reading. And he was pretty blunt in early April that he wasn’t interested in helping me with my brain injury grief, which would include dealing with reading loss. I finally decided the emotional toll of having to continually remind and beg to stick to the reading rehab routine that worked and of his 20th century psychiatric thinking wasn’t worth it anymore. Unfortunately, this kind of approach to brain injury rooted in the last century is still the norm today within medical circles.

So I’m moving on. I put him on hiatus and am putting reading in the past where others have decreed through their actions it belongs. It’s really difficult for me to enforce my own reading rehab on myself; it’s one of the few cognitions that can’t be restored on one’s own. My mother reads with me every so often. That’ll have to be enough to maintain my current level unless God decides to answer prayer and bring me a miracle.

Brain Health

Brain Injury Grief: The Experts Begin to Recognize and Define this Profound Loss

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The last time I tried to find some info on grief and brain injury, I found nothing helpful. This past week, I half heartedly looked again. I was surprised and heartened to find that brain injury grief was being recognized at long last. Skimming articles from the US and UK validated my belief that brain injury grief is a different and much more difficult beast than other kinds of grief.

Janelle Breese Biagioni wrote on Brainline: “Then we have what I identify as extraordinary grief resulting from a disease such as Alzheimer’s or a catastrophic injury such as a brain injury. This kind of grief is profound. People must grieve who they were, and the family also grieves the person who is no longer there, albeit physically present. Sadly, I think society as a whole is only beginning to understand how profound this type of grief is….”

I’m not sure society is recognizing it. After all when most health care professionals don’t and I see person after person having to subsume their grief or being labelled depressed, you know social work and psychiatric care hasn’t evolved in this area yet.

Biagioni continues: “Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Companioning Model identifies potential grief responses as shock, numbness, disbelief, disorganization, confusion, searching, anxiety, panic, fear, physiological changes, explosive emotions, guilt and regret, loss, emptiness, sadness, relief and release, and finally, reconciliation and healing.”

I so relate to this list up to sadness. And brain injury does complicate it because it causes confusion, disorganization all on its own. PTSD also overlaps many of those listed states. How does one tease out the cause for each? How does one address multiple causes for one state and know which order to treat the causes or if best done simultaneously?

She continued: “If one is allowed to truly feel — to grieve, this will lead to mourning. Mourning is the process of taking those feelings from the inside to the outside. It is giving expression to how we feel. This may be done in a variety of ways, such as funerals, talking, writing, art, and music. Wolfelt describes it like this: “Mourning is grief gone public.”

I have to wonder if we need to develop new rituals of mourning for internal deaths, deaths like reading, identity, musical accomplishment, hobby skills, memory, specific identity memories, sense of humour, emotions, etc. And then also develop rituals when some of them return in part, distorted, not the same or maybe fully suddenly years and years later. The pre-injury person suddenly returning isn’t always welcome — it’s another change after having adapted to fundamental change and perhaps you’ve come to like some radical new parts of you, like I liked not being so self-controlled to the nth degree. It was so freeing.

Dr Rudi Coetzer on Headway U.K. wrote with great insight: “brain injury survivors and their family members often find traditional approaches and support networks are unable to adequately address the problem. Reaching the acceptance stage is difficult and by no means a certainty, but after brain injury things can be further complicated by the unfamiliar, complex and often unpredictable effects of the condition…

“From a more academic perspective, factors such as time since injury, awareness, family support, pre-injury personality traits, social networks, and severity of the injury can all influence the person’s experience of grief.

“Furthermore, there is often a focus in the literature on the loss of ‘how things were’, but again, as a clinician, working psychotherapeutically I also often hear about the grief regarding the loss of ‘what might have been’, were it not for the injury.”

Brain Power

Eyes Sharpening

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Union Station Toronto ColumnsIt’s a gusty day, clouds billowing up on each other, stretching apart to reveal dark patches of blue sky and let the sunlight through. Once again this week, I’m standing on the sidewalk, against the wind, staring down down down the street, all the way to the third traffic light in the distance. Red red red green. Or is that the fourth traffic light I can see to?

How is this happening? Seeing more depthlike depth in distance objects was weird. And wonderful. Seeing the whole of a computer display in one go was oh so nice. But now with another new improvement, I’m boggling. How is this possible?

My brain is adapting. A bit unsteady at sudden moments. Back to staring and taking in buildings, people, signs, colour nuances on the Royal York hotel stones, details in bricks, Union Station’s warmth and richness of colour, before I can feel my brain release and I can continue to walk.

Brain Biofeedback

Vision Update: Seeing Farther

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Photos of new streetcar door jambs and enormous windows.Brief vision update here. I don’t want to jinx it, but for the last couple of weeks, my far-distance and panoramic vision seem to have stabilized. Does this mean my brain has stopped trying to shut down the firehose of new visual information that the surgery turned on? Does this mean it has ceded the battle and is coming to terms with both eyes working together and feeding more efficient data to the visual cortex?

My depth perception is still being integrated. I’ve discovered that reciting to myself over and over “integrate” as I step down each step actually integrates my proprioception (sensory information from my feet) and perception (sensory information from my eyes) and makes stepping down and knowing where I am on the staircase much much easier. Huh. This week I got to the landing and knew it without having to stop and check my feet and feel unsteady until I did. W00t!

I’m slowly adapting to the new streetcars. Because of the TTC’s systemic bias, they have created door jambs that have yellow paint not at the outside edge but behind the black bumper. Only the accessible door has no black bumper; still, the slope down and gradual grey edge makes it difficult for my brain to perceive what is streetcar and what is pavement. And for some reason, it’s also more difficult to discern how high the step is when getting on. The old streetcars with their white-painted edges are easier to step up into, though it’s still more challenging than regular stairs . . . maybe because they’re steep??

Anyway, I bang my cane down on the surface I want to step on to, and that tells my brain where my foot goes.

The large windows and sloping floor (why oh why did the streetcar designers think sloping floors are safe on a moving vehicle‽) can induce nausea in anyone, I’ve learnt. I suggested to a friend with a perfectly healthy brain that she sit in the accessible car where the floor is flat. Nausea solved for her. But for me, it’s the large moving landscape visible outside the enormous windows. I’m assuming this moving-scenery-induced nausea/dizzy will ease over time, and I’m seated anyway, so I won’t fall.

I was starting to get quite stressed over the thought that my new vision would reverse and my brain would revert to “default.” I’m heartened that the brain biofeedback, and perhaps the increased light levels on my audiovisual entrainment device to stimulate the retina, are enforcing the new vision.

Health

Concussion Recovery is a Series of What are my Priorities?

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Slide of graphic of man looking into his head. From Healing the Brain conference.

As I come out of the narrow, tortuous pass that is a life focused on treating brain injury and the subsequent PTSD, I’m faced with the big question: what are my priorities?

The first time I said bye to focusing on treating my injured neurons, I hunted for the supports I needed to be functional. That was my priority then.

“T1: To me “treating the whole person” is about discussing how care plans fit into the patient’s life and GOALS vs. the patient figuring that out later in a vacuum. #patientchat”
http://twitter.com/btrfly12/status/956952160234868741

As I begin writing this, I’m also scrolling through Twitter #patientchat; one person tweets that it would be nice if the physician discussed how care fits into the patient’s life and goals.

It would be!

Up until 2013, for me, my life goal was getting back to my life. Oh, I knew I was writing differently, I probably couldn’t return to computer programming, and writing was the only thing I could realistically do with my fatigue and propensity to suddenly not be able to work for long stretches. But somewhere in me, I believed I could return to “normal.” Return to working several hours a day. Return to normal socializing. Return to earning an income. Return to never having to attend another fucking health care appointment.

Then life and PTSD gave me a rude wakeup call. I had to refocus on health care appointments and also religiously treat my injured neurons at home just so that I could get through the day. That went on for years until a confluence of treatments in 2017 finally slayed the chaos in my brain. Ruminations like a hamster in a steroidal wheel slowed then almost faded away.

I resisted then finally acquiesced to the knowledge that my PTSD was not going to be treated in any curative way (some day I’ll write about why people with complex PTSD aren’t getting better and life is a daily struggle to keep functional and nights a nightly hell of tossing sleep). Then this past Christmas, I tired of treating my brain injury too.

I quit.

Yeah, okay, I’m still attending my brain biofeedback and I continue reading rehab with my neurodoc and I use my home devices just enough to keep pain of every kind at bay and my body ticking along as best it can. But I’m not doing any homework. I’m not thinking anymore about how to work on this part of my injury or that part. Any thoughts on brain injury and treatments are to keep my book blog pages updated. And I’m not working at all on treating my PTSD. It is what it is.

I want to get back to normal life, what I now define as: a day not consumed by health care.

But what do I want to do? Write novels for myself. (No one is buying them and I’m not made of money to spend on taking them to the final published book form so once I write the first draft, what’s the point of revising and editing.) Philosophy of Mind requires me to read. A lot. And really hard stuff. Well, that’s not going to happen. I didn’t get the professional help when it would have made a difference. (Health care professionals are so focused on what they do and what the average is for this function or that that they miss the rare opportunities to radically help their clients.) On the other hand I learnt of the video courses on the Great Courses Plus app, which I’m wending my way through very very slowly. I enjoy photography but can’t seem to dedicate time to it and haven’t been able to in years. I can design and create websites, though it’s on/off, sucks me dry of any energy, and oftentimes feels like there’s a thick concrete wall between me and understanding the back end of a website where all the coding takes place. I can help people with brain injury, like I did last November with NaNoWriMo and like I’m trying to do with Concussion Is Brain Injury, as long as I have energy and don’t have to do it for longer than a month at a time. There are other things I’d like to do. Cooking would also be nice; to make myself yummy nutritious meals without the energy suckage would be awesome.

I return to the question: what are my priorities? I don’t know.

Brain Biofeedback

Fatigue Meets Weather Equals . . .

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Dry air. Deep cold that penetrates into the tiniest lung cells. Early mornings interrupting fractured sleep. Brain goes pfft, I’m not doing this, regulating the nose, the throat, the heart, and lungs. Let’s go back to bed.

But bed wasn’t doing me good. I had to keep my head elevated to keep the drips out of my throat and descending into my lungs to create bad news.

I dragged myself out to brain biofeedback where I found to my happy surprise that gamma enhancement made my throat stop wanting to cough hack scratch. Phew.

I was also using low-intensity light treatment on my neck and upper back to calm the twitchiness in my throat and lungs. I didn’t know if it would work — I was kind of like how I am on the computer: let’s see what this will do . . .?

It helped, like the gamma did. But the weather continues its assault, and I’m not resting properly. Soooo . . . Just don’t talk a lot!

Brain Biofeedback

The Presbyopic Lens of the DSM Mutes this Patient with Brain Injury

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Love BotThe main character in my new novel has no voice. She’s not me, yet, too, I am muted, most recently, in the relationship with my neurodoc. It’s come to an impasse. He is clinging on with rigid ferocity to the DSM and, though he’s interested in the new ideas of neuroplasticity, he continues to adhere to the familiar-to-him chemical model of the brain, while I demand that he sees my injury as an injury, meaning my issues come out of physiological damage and as the neurons heal, what he calls moods and traits will and do suddenly disappear or flip, something the DSM and chemical models don’t account for.

He’s not alone.

Psychiatry has devolved into prescribing chemicals. Take this and see me in six weeks. If one chemical formula doesn’t work, try another or add another. In the brittle brains of medical specialists, the brain has become a chemical bath that can be manipulated by ingesting or injecting the right solid or liquid chemistry. Forward thinkers aka health policy experts and bureaucratic innovators further maneuvere psychiatrists out of that old fussy model of talking and into dispensing increasingly sophisticated variations of the same type of chemicals. Community-minded forward thinkers look to generics as being exactly the same as brand names: cures for cheaper, thus more responsible to the community, except psychiatric medicines don’t cure. They just mask and symptom manage.

Accordingly, brain injury medical specialists and mental health forward thinkers have evolved treatment beyond the intimate therapeutic alliance between physician and patient to infrequent expert consults and time-limited overview, never mind that a therapeutic alliance is the best buttress against “noncompliance.” When you’re heard and you feel cared for and you’re connected to your physician, especially your psychiatrist, you’re more likely to have your concerns heard, to be given therapy and medicine that’s better suited to your needs, and thus to comply.

But in the forward thinking brittleness of evidence-based modern psychiatry, relationships are obsolete. (That reflects our society; and we wonder why North America is in turmoil.) A relationship that respects and hears the patient, that values their insight and uses it to diagnose and treat, that works with non-medical health professionals, seems to be an anomaly. Add in the lifelong demands of brain injury that’s not static over time, where communication is challenging yet the only type acceptable by the brittle progressive psychiatrists is verbal, and you have an impasse when a patient like me objects to being unheard, devalued, and sexist and culturally stereotyped through the presbyopic lens of the DSM.

If I’d had oodles of money, back in 2009, I would have sought out a psychologist familiar with brain injury. I had been told back in 2001 — and discovered for myself — that you really need a mental health professional who knows and understands brain injury in order to receive good, effective, and understanding therapy to manage the injury and its social, psychological, and economic consequences.

I would now add: needs to be someone who is willing to learn and adopt the neuroplastic model of the brain, to learn how brain injury affects women worse than men, and how gender inequality affects their social and economic lives as well as taking into account cultural differences.

Progressive men who feel proud of how they empower women and grant them equality don’t react too well to women who’ve known all their lives that they’re equal under God and don’t need to be granted it by a man, who come in expecting to have a say in their diagnosis and therapy, even when unable to communicate in the traditional way.

Unfortunately I didn’t have money flowing out of my coffers to afford a psychologist. In Ontario’s version of Canadian universal health care, the government funds only psychiatrists. And so that’s who I had to look for. The University of Toronto has hundreds, almost a thousand, psychiatrists affiliated with their Faculty of Medicine. Of those a handful work in neuropsychiatry, maybe a few understand brain injury, and hardly any work with people with brain injury in the way they need: weekly talk therapy using a team approach with health care professionals who actively treat the broken neurons. The psychiatrist ought to provide the emotional therapy and the others the physiological treatments. Some psychiatrists are joining their psychology colleagues in moving from the DSM and chemical bath model to the neuroplastic model of actually permanently healing broken people. Some so that they can work better as a member of a team; some so that they can actually treat their patients both emotionally and physiologically. I don’t know who would pay when a psychiatrist uses brain biofeedback, for example, as part of their therapy sessions. Our forward thinking bureaucrats and politicians probably ensure it isn’t taxpayer-paid health care. And I don’t think many or any of these psychiatrists are focusing on people with brain injury.

But I bet you no one is approaching reading rehab in the way my neurodoc and I are doing it (even though I became so exhausted emotionally from begging and begging for help that when he finally assented, I could no longer do the work on my own and I’ve become mute in asking for the fullness of what I need). So somehow, though he shot our therapeutic alliance to hell with his rigid clawed grip on the inappropriate-for-brain-injury DSM, he’s committed to going out of his way to help me with regaining my reading. I think that’s a metaphor for my post-brain injury life: every heavily fought-for improvement has come at a price.